Skip to main content

Full text of "Report of the Commissioner of Public Records"

See other formats

Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 

3 1833 01892 4917 


No. 52. 


Custody and Condition 


Parishes, Towns, and Counties. 

By ROBERT T. SWAN, Commissioner. 

18 Post Office Square. 

Approved by 
The State Board of Publication. 

Commotifoealt^r of UlassatJMsrtis. 

Office of the Commissioner of Public Records, 
Boston, Mass., Jan. 1, 1904. 

To the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives. 

I have the honor to submit the twelfth report of this com- 
mission, being the sixteenth in the series of reports on' the 
public records. 

The Work of the Year. 
It is difficult to state the results of any one year. It 
is peculiar, varying from compelling compliance with the 
statutes to searching for missing records and investigatinc- 


matters pertaining to recording. The constant answering 
of inquiries concerning particular records, and records in 
general, is a part of the work where results cannot be stated. 
The nature of the work is quiet and unobtrusive, often con- 
fidential. One writer has called the office " the most peace- 
ful and somnolent of all the State departments," and it may 
be a question whether more aggressive work, brought more 
to public notice, would not bring more help from interested 
persons in the several communities. 

The city and town officials are so slow to act upon matters 
connected with the records that requirements made during 
a year often are not complied with during the year. This 
is not to be wondered at, when it is considered, as has been 
many times stated in these reports, that little thought or 
attention is given to the records until some special event 
requires their production. Moreover, for about thirty years 
the laws relating to them were a dead letter, for until the 
establishment of this commission no one was called upon 
or expected to enforce them. Even now it is difficult to 
convince the city and town officials that the commissioner 


intends, as far as possible and within reason, to enforce 
the law. 

The passage of so many laws concerning town matters 
which are not enforced, and which the public does not 
expect will be, leads to the conclusion that action is not 
necessary. A few of these are cited. Every town is re- 
quired to have a seal ; but many have none. Every city 
and town must maintain guide posts at such places as are 
convenient for the direction of travellers, and which at the 
junction of ways leading to other cities or towns must state 
whence they lead, and the distance ; but little attention is 
paid to this law. All unlicensed dogs must be killed ; but 
despite the fact that returns are made certifying that they 
have been, it is commonly known they have not. Most of 
the individual celebration of the Fourth of July with gun- 
powder is absolutely prohibited, yet is openly allowed.. The 
driver of a horse drawing a sleigh or sled on any public way 
or bridge, without at least three bells attached to the har- 
ness, is liable to a penalty ; yet one, or the absence of any, 
is commonly allowed. 

The most surprising disregard of the law is found in the 
matter of the return and registry of births and deaths. Since 
the early days of the colony parents have been required to 
make return of every child born to them, and for many 
years householders have been required to make a return of 
every birth or death in their households ; but it is so rare 
an occurrence for such a return to be made that it would 
surprise a city or town clerk to receive one. The failure to 
have made these in the past (and now will soon be the past) 
is a constant vexation to persons consulting the records ; 
property rights are affected and litigation ensues ; but if 
the people are satisfied to allow the neglect of so much of 
importance in the records, the officials can reasonably infer 
that their neglect to care for them will not be considered 

Without a community interested and approving, the com- 
missioner finds his suggestions adopted slowly, if at all, and 
enforcement of the law without clashing requires tact and 

1904.] PUBLIC DOCUMENT — No. 52. 

Enforcement of the Laws. 

The statute requires that the commissioner shall take the 
' ' necessary measures " for the preservation of the records as 
required by the laws. As far as possible he does, but it 
must be admitted that there are conditions where he cannot 
obtain required results. Where the only practical method 
for strict compliance with the law is the expenditure of large 
sums for the building of a new city or town hall, he cannot 
compel it. He can point out the requirements, suggest, and 
urge, thereby putting the responsibility upon the several 
communities, but should not be held responsible in case of 
the destruction of the records. 

The above conditions exist in Newton and Boston. The 
city hall in Newton is a remodelled wooden building, with 
dangerous surroundings, and its destruction by fire need not 
be unexpected. For several years the commissioner has 
called the attention of successive city governments to the 
danger to the records, but no improvements have been made, 
there being a prevailing sentiment that a new city hall will 
be built as soon as location can be agreed upon, and that 
adequate protection in the present building would neces- 
sitate too great an expenditure for temporary uses. 

In Boston the records are chiefly in the city hall and old 
court house, although many of the city offices are in other 
buildings. In 1889 the commissioner first called the atten- 
tion of the city government to the lack of proper provision 
for the safety of the records, and a large vault was built in 
the basement, to which many of the records were removed. 
Schemes for a new city hall were soon after advanced, and 
have been revived from time to time since. Meanwhile, a 
vault has been constructed in the old court house for the 
city registrar, a large one under the city hall yard, and 
various minor improvements have been made. Still many 
of the records are unprotected and will probably remain so, 
if not destroyed, until the much-needed new city hall is 

In 1901 a committee was appointed to make an examina- 
tion of the manuscript records in possession of the city, and 


to submit recommendations for their preservation. This 
committee reported in February, 1902, suggesting four 
plans : — 

1. To deposit in the Public Library the historical records 
and certain executive documents. 

2. To turn over to the city registrar the records of his- 
torical interest. 

3. To obtain rooms in fire-proof buildings, and make a 
general deposit of all records possessed by the city. 

4. To construct a hall of records. 

Legislation would be needed for the carrying out of the 
first two plans, as each department must have control of its 
own records. 

Of the four plans, the last was the only one favored by 
the committee. This is in line with the plan for a public 
record office, which has been advocated from time to time 
in the reports of this commission, where its advantages have 
been set forth. 

To the public record office all the older records and papers 
of all the cities and towns could be brought, thereby reliev- 
ing the local authorities from storing in mass the ever- 
increasing accumulation. In the hands of experts the 
unimportant papers could be taken out for destruction, 
and the others made available. As a business proposition, 
would it not be well for cities and towns, before building 
new city and town halls of capacities sufficient to provide 
for the rapid accumulation of the records for many years 
to come, to advocate the establishment of the public record 

Accumulation of Papers. 

The accumulation of papers constituting part of the public 
records is presenting a problem which must be solved by 

The statutes provide that "the words 'public records,' 
unless a contrary intention clearly appears, mean any written 
or printed book or paper . . . which an officer or employee 
of the Commonwealth, or of a county, city, or town has 
received or is required to receive for filing." Section 14 
of chapter 35 of the Revised Laws provides that every 

1904.] PUBLIC DOCUMENT — No. 52. 7 

original paper belonging to the files, bearing date earlier 
than the year 1800, and many papers not required to be 
recorded, relative to State, county, and municipal matters, 
shall be preserved and safely kept. All other papers musi 
be kept for seven years, when they may be destroyed with 
the approval of the Commissioner of Public Records. 

Until 1894, when the attention of the Legislature was 
brought to the omission, there was no definition of the 
public records, and the files were not generally considered 
as constituting a part of them. No provision for their safety 
had been, as a rule, made ; and thousands of papers, includ- 
ing maps, plans, descriptions of highways, and historical 
and genealogical matter, have been burned, or sent to the 
paper mill. (Some, fortunately, were stolen, and are being 
brought to light. ) 

There are, however, in the cities and towns accumulations 
of papers for which now as a part of the public records fire- 
proof protection must be provided at considerable expense, 
either by building vaults or fire-proof buildings, or buying 
safes. The position of the commissioner in the matter is 
peculiar and difficult. It is his duty to see that the records 
are kept in fire-proof receptacles and arranged for examina- 
tion and reference, and, strictly, the files should be ; but in 
the greater part of the towns the important and unimportant 
papers are jumbled together, often with a mass of printed 
matter. It is unreasonable to require that the useless papers 
shall be protected, but there seems to be no one to sort 
them. The town clerks are not paid enough for what is 
required of them by statute as current work, and cannot be 
expected to devote time to putting in order the neglected 
accumulation of years. Moreover, many of the papers 
belong to other departments, and are not in the custody 
of the clerks. 

The records are generally considered an incumbrance, and 
the town officers are loath to expend money for their care. 
Under these conditions there seems little prospect of action 
in the matter except under threat of prosecution ; but work 
of this kind, which the commissioner cannot supervise, should 
not be done under compulsion. He would certainly hesitate 


to sanction the destruction of papers laid out for the pur- 
pose where the sentiment was in favor of having as few as 
possible to care for. 

A public record office, in which the old records and papers 
will some day find an abiding place where they will be 
properly cared for and classified, the people are not yet 
ready for. The suggestion is, therefore, offered that the 
files in the cities and towns be sorted under the direction 
of the Commissioner of Public Records at the expense of 
the respective cities and towns. This would be less expen- 
sive to them than to provide fire-proof receptacles for all 
the files, which would seem to be the other alternative. 

In the county courts the accumulation of the files is large 
and rapidly increasing, and the proper protection of them 
means constant remodelling or refitting of the present build- 
ings, or the erection of new at great expense. In the 
accumulation are venires, reports on inquests, rolls of dam- 
ages done by dogs, election returns, costs in criminal cases, 
and many papers like accounts annexed in civil suits. (The 
commissioner recalls a bill several yards in length, of a 
country store-keeper, on which a small balance was due on 
an open account. This not only was on file, but, under the 
custom in that court, was recorded in full.) 

That there may be a carefully guarded provision for the 
destruction of some of these papers after they are outlawed, 
or can no longer affect public rights, would seem practicable. 
Believing this, the commissioner suggested to the clerks of 
the county courts permissive, not compulsory, legislation, 
which should provide that the clerk and Commissioner of 
Public Records should from time to time submit to the 
justices a list of papers to be destroyed upon their author- 
ization. Some more restrictive measures mi^ht be advis- 
able, such as designating the papers to be preserved; but 
the tendency of any one likely to hold either of the above 
positions would be toward preservation rather than destruc- 
tion of the files. 

The replies of the clerks show diversity of opinion. One 
would preserve everything ; two would destroy nearly every- 
thing after a term of years ; while one is not prepared to 

1904.] PUBLIC DOCUMENT — No. 52. 9 

advocate any definite line, but mentions certain papers that 
might be destroyed. The general opinion is that venire-, 
election returns, dog rolls, and costs in criminal cases could 
be destroyed ; while opinion is about equally divided on 
reports of inquests, and depositions. 

Besides the saving in room to be gained in the destruc- 
tion of what are considered useless papers, it would add to 
the value of what are preserved by making them more likely 
to be cared for, and more accessible. 

In view of the varied opinions, it does not seem worth 
while to ask for immediate legislation ; but the subject 
should receive consideration by the county officers who arc- 
to provide, and the people who are to pay for, buildings in 
which to store these papers. The relief and benefit to the 
cities and towns to be derived from a public record office, 
as suggested under "Enforcement of the Laws," could be 
extended to the counties. All papers of genealogical or his- 
torical value would there be preserved and made available. 

Politics in Kecording Offices. 

The attempts to make the offices of the recording officers 
political prizes still continue, to the detriment of the records 
and the public service. Honest service and efficiency gained 
by experience count for nothing as against such a doctrine, 
recently printed, as that an office "has been a gift to the 
party long enough ; " and when a minority party, or a fac- 
tion within a party, sees a possible chance for a new candi- 
date, he is brought forward. Fortunately, the attempts of 
the politicians do not meet with much success, but they are 
becoming more frequent, several opposing candidates having 
been brought forward this year ; and the uncertainty per- 
taining to an office counts against the best possible adminis- 
tration of it. 

Individual members of the community give little thought 
to the public records or their custodians until personal inter- 
ests are concerned, or they find their county, city, or town 
losing some rights or money because of the carelessness, 
dishonesty, or ignorance of a recording officer. The dis- 
appearance of a single paper, such as a bond, a mortgage. 


or a will, from the custody of a clerk of a court, or of a 
register of deeds, or register of probate, either through care- 
lessness, dishonesty, or ignorance, might be of great moment 
to the parties in interest. Carefulness and honesty may be 
found in new incumbents, but knowledge of the duties of 
the several offices can best be learned by experience, and 
incumbents found to possess all these qualities should be 
kept in office as long as they are efficient. They are the 
servants of the people, not parties ; and the fact that they 
are members of one party or another, or of none, should be 
as immaterial as whether they are allopaths or homeopaths, 
High Church Episcopalians or Quakers. 

The judiciary of Massachusetts largely owes its high 
standard to the fact that the judges are appointed, and are 
absolutely removed from politics. The clerks of the police, 
municipal, and district courts are appointed, and opinion is 
growing that the clerks of the supreme and superior courts, 
and the registers of deeds and of probate, allied as they are 
to the judicial system, should be. Continued introduction 
of politics into these offices will tend to bring this about. 

In Berkshire County, politics was unexpectedly introduced 
at the last election, — a disappointing fact, because its two 
cities, North Adams and Fittsfield, had both wisely accepted 
the act allowing the election of city clerks for three years, 
and to that extent taken recording offices out of politics. 
(In Pittsfield there had been an annual contest since it 
became a city.) It was to be hoped that this sentiment 
would prevail in regard to county offices ; but in the 
Republican convention an underhanded "deal" resulted in 
the nomination by a majority of two of a new candidate 
for register of probate. Thereupon a Democratic nomina- 
tion was made for both register of probate and clerk of the 
courts for the first time for many terms. 

The clerk was re-elected, but an experienced and efficient 
register of probate, thoroughly versed in probate law, whose 
office had been administered without suggestion of complaint, 
was displaced by a new and inexperienced incumbent, who 
is more than likely, now that the office is brought into poli- 
tics, to find a contest at the end of his term. 

1904.] PUBLIC DOCUMENT — No. 52. 11 

Terms of Office'. 

By chapter 332 of the Acts of 1901, cities won; obliged 
to vote upon the acceptance of the act which required the 
election of city clerks for terms of three years. It un- 
accepted by 27 of the cities, and the commissioner sees 
with great satisfaction the continuance in office for at least 
another year of the city clerks in cities where " clean 
sweeps " of the offices are predicted. 

The act was rejected by these small majorities in the 
following cities : Beverly, 276 ; Lowell, 788 ; Marlborough, 
182; Northampton, 337; Quincy, 271; and Waltham, 

It has been represented to the commissioner that many 
not familiar with the act did not vote, and that another vote 
would show a different result. While towns may by the 
acceptance of section 335 of chapter 11 of the Kevised 
Laws elect a town clerk for three years, the above-named 
cities must ask for special legislation ; and, notwithstanding 
the printed criticisms of the commissioner for " defying the 
popular verdict," and having the "impudence" to suggest 
in 1902 that these cities be given another opportunity, he 
renews the suggestion, and in the interest of the records 
urges persons in the above cities who know their value, 
and the desirability of keeping the recording offices out of 
politics, to ask such legislation, that their cities may be on 
equal footing with the majority, where the longer tenure of 
office encourages the clerks to improvements in work and 

Exaggerated NTeavspaper Beports. 

From time to time reports appear in the newspapers of 
the loss or discovery of valuable records. With one excep- 
tion the reports of loss, usually sent during the excitement 
of a fire, have been either false or greatly exaggerated, and, 
though the commissioner tries to correct the statements, 
they become fixed in the public mind. The reported loss 
of all the records of Marlborough, by the burning of the 
city hall, where none were lost, though extensively contra- 
dicted, is still considered a fact, and inquiries are made of 



this office where facts presumably recorded in Marlborough 
can be ascertained. A very recent printed statement that 
the city's records are unprotected because of the loss of the 
city hall is also false. 

A report under "Town Records Lost," in heavy lines, 
stated that the records of Washington were mysteriously 
disappearing, and a search warrant might be issued. Dupli- 
cate keys were hinted at. The fact was that a volume had 
been taken for use by some one having access to the safe, 
which was not strictly allowable, but it was returned to the 
clerk as soon as asked for. The records of Tyringham were 
falsely reported as having been carried out of town by a 
former selectman, but this report was without foundation. 
The loss of records in fires at Burlington, Townsend, and 
some other towns have been reported when none were lost. 

These reports reflect upon the commissioner and the local 
authorities, and are read with regret by persons throughout 
the country interested in the respective towns and their 
records, who never see the denials. 

The reports of the "discovery" of valuable papers are 
instructive, and to be welcomed as helps to arouse public 
interest, but they are often amusing as items of news. 
With few exceptions the papers are some which have been 
rescued by the commissioner from obscure places in town 
halls or elsewhere, where their existence was unknown 
because of accumulations with them of masses of printed 
matter, unimportant written matter, school supplies, and a 
miscellaneous collection of rubbish, such as stage scenery, 
fair-decorations, and kindling wood. Upon bringing these 
to light they have been put in proper custody, and in course 
of time are "discovered" by some one, who writes a 
descriptive article. Similar descriptions would apply in 
very many towns, and it is possible that more extensive 
reports of the commissioner at the time, making public 
the results of his work of discovery, would have aroused a 
general interest in the towns specified. There are many 
towns where such papers undoubtedly can be found, and the 
local historical societies can do no better work than to find 
them. When found, however, they should be placed in 
public custody. 

li>04.] PUBLIC DOCUMENT — No. 52. \\\ 

Reports of the Commissioner. 

The commissioner has for two years asked for an additional 
number of the annual reports, but no attention whatever has 
been paid to the request. He is fully aware that under the 
present method of distribution a part^of those now printed 
are of no use to any one, and form part of the mas^ of 
printed matter sent to the cities and towns which is piled 
away as a useless encumbrance, entailing more or less 
expense. In many cases it is a menace to the records which 
have found their way into the mass. On the other hand, he 
knows that they may be of use to the recording officers 
and persons having official connection with the records, if 
put into their hands directly and seasonably. This is proved 
by the numberless inquiries concerning matters (notably in 
regard to typewriting) which have been fully set forth in the 
reports, and by evidence that requirements of the law therein 
mentioned have not come to the attention of those concerned. 
Moreover, they often suggest legislation, and the sugges- 
tions should be brought to the notice of the recording officers, 
perhaps to oppose, before action upon them, instead of 
months after the Legislature adjourns. 

The Secretary of the Commonwealth has placed a large 
number of the reports in the hands of the commissioner to 
fill the demands of a mailing list of persons desiring them, 
but to supply the recording officers the commissioner has for 
two years had a sufficient number printed at his own expense. 
To be relieved of this, he asks that 500 additional copies be 
annually printed, to be placed in his hands for distribution. 

Notwithstanding that the use of the typewriter upon the 
public records was authorized in 1899, and the list of ribbons 
approved by the commissioner to be used upon them was 
printed in the report for 1900, inquiries are often received 
from recording officers in regard to the legality of typewriting 
upon the records, and whether such writing is permanent. 
Such inquiries are received also from persons all over the 
country who have heard that the subject has had official 
investigation in Massachusetts, and it seems well, therefore, 


to quote the law and again print the list of approved ribbons. 
One of them is withdrawn from the list, as it is no longer 
manufactured . 

Persons having the care or custody of public records in 
any department or office of the Commonwealth, or of any 
county, city, or town, " shall not use or permit to be used 
upon such records any ribbon, pad, or other device used for 
printing by typewriting machines, or any ink contained in 
such ribbon, pad, or device, except such as has been approved 
by the commissioner " of public records. 

In accordance with the provisions of section 9 of chapter 
35 of the Revised Laws, the following ribbons and pad, and 
the pads and other devices used for printing by typewriting 
machines, made by any of the manufacturers named below, 
if inked with the inks used upon their respective ribbons, 
are approved for use upon the public records of the Com- 
monwealth, and of the several counties, cities, and towns 
therein . 

The arrangement of the list is alphabetical by the names 
of the manufacturers, without regard to preference. 

Carter's Black Record Typewriter Ribbon. 

Manufactured by The Carter's Ink Company, 162 Columbus Avenue, Boston. 

Little's Brilliant Black Record Ribbon. 

Manufactured by A. P. Little, Rochester, N. Y. 

Eureka Brand Special Black Record Ribbon, ink No. 158. 

Manufactured by Mittag & Volger, Park Ridge, N. J. 

Diamond Brand Official Black Record Ribbon, ink No. 621. 

Manufactured by The Stephen T. Smith Company, 10 Park Place, New York. 

Underwood's Black Record Ribbon, ink No. 655. 

Manufactured by John Underwood & Co., 30 Vesey Street, New York. 

The Webster Star Brand Black Record Ribbon, ink No. 147. 

Manufactured by F. S. Webster Company, 332 Congress Street, Boston. 

Black Record Paragon Ribbon. 

Manufactured by Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict, 15 School Street, Boston. 

Yost Black Record Pad. 

Manufactured by Yost Writing Machine Company, 316 Broadway, New York. 

1904.] PUBLIC DOCUMENT — No. 52. 15 

The report of S. E. Dawson, Esq., Queen's Printer and 
Controller of Stationery, submitted to the Canadian Parlia- 
ment in 1900, deals with the subjeet of papers, inks, and 
typewriting in a most instructive and interesting manner. I n 
writing of the permanency of typewriting he says : " During 
the last year I had under my notice a crucial instance of the 
different behaviors ot inks under a severe test. In the fire 
at the West Block two letter books belonging to the Depart- 
ment of Militia were injured. Both were charred at the 
edges, and had been thoroughly soaked with water to an 
equal degree. The signatures and all letters, in both books, 
which had been copied from writing ink were perfectly good 
and legible. The durability of good writing ink was evi- 
dent, but the typewritten copies were very different. In 
one letter book not a single typewritten letter was legible. 
Every page was an indistinct blur of blue and purple. In 
the other book a different ribbon had for the most part been 
used, and every letter written with that was clear and dis- 
tinct ; while on the pages of the same book where other 
ribbons had been used not a single word or even letter could 
be picked out of the confused blur of color." 

Stamping Pads. 

Inquiries continue to be made concerning the legality of 
stamping upon the records, and the permanency of stamping 
inks. The stamping would seem to be illegal, but the per- 
manency is an open question. The permanency thus far, 
under a severe test, of stamping done in 1901 with a certain 
pad for which permanency was claimed, suggested to the 
commissioner the advisability of an investigation ; but the 
statement of the several manufacturers consulted, that all 
the inks contained aniline colors, and the doubt expressed 
as to absolute permanency, made an investigation at this 
time premature. Experiments are being carried on by the 
manufacturers with black and blue colors, and some of those 
inks now made would undoubtedly, if not exposed to the 
light, last for a long time, but it can be said that inks of the 
other colors are fugitive. 

Investigation will be made to determine if possible 


whether stamping should be allowed, as there are many 
places where stamps could be used to advantage, and many 
would like to use them. 

Binding and Preserving the Re cords. 

The most specific results of the work from year to year 
are shown in the binding and preserving of the ancient 
records. The condition of some of the volumes cannot be 
pictured by description, or photography, as nothing but 
handling will show the state of decay to which the paper 
has arrived. Many of the books are mentioned by writers 
and orators as priceless ; but the requirement by the com- 
missioner that they shall be bound and preserved is often 
considered as the imposition of a needless expense. A part 
of the appropriation for the work of the commissioner is 
expended each year for this binding, where the expense to 
a town would under certain circumstances seem excessive. 

Records have been bound by the Emery process dur- 
ing the year for the following places : Middlesex County 
Southern District, and Worcester County Worcester Dis- 
trict Registries of Deeds ; Middlesex County Registry of 
Probate ; Burlington, Dartmouth, Everett, Great Barring- 
ton, Leicester, Lenox, New Brain tree, Northfield, Reho- 
both, Sheffield, South Hadley, Taunton, and Tisbury. 

During the year the vital records to 1850 of the following 
towns have been printed, under the provisions of chapter 
470 of the Acts of 1902 : Barre, Becket, Bedford, Lee, 
Leicester, Lexington, Maiden, Medfield, Millbury, South- 
borough, Sudbury, Topsfield, Tyringham, Walpole, and 
Westborough. The following volumes have been issued : — 

Boston. A Volume of Records relating to the Early History 
of Boston, containing Boston Marriages from 1752 to 1809. 
(This is the Thirteenth Report in the series of Boston Records, 
formerly called Record Commissioners' Reports.) Edward W. 
McGlenen, City Registrar. Boston, 1903. 

Fitchburg. The Old Records of the Town of Fitchburg, 
Mass. A copy of a portion of the Records contained in Volume 

1904.] PUBLIC DOCUMENT— \o. 52. 17 

III., pages 271 to 559 inclusive, being Volume Five of the Printer) 
Records of the Town. Compiled by Walter A. Davis, City Clerk. 
Fitchburg, 1902. 

Ancient Dating and Adjusting of Dates. 

The thirteenth report of this commission dealt with the 
subject of double dating. As much copying is being done 
or is in contemplation in anticipation of the publication of 
the series of vital records, it seems well to again call atten- 
tion to that subject. 

Owing to the adoption by Parliament of the Gregorian 
calendar, and the change from the Julian, the reckoning of 
time as connected with ancient dates is always perplexing, 
even to those familiar with the subject, and egregious errors 
have been made by copyists and writers. The greatest 
cause of error has been adopting a single date as the year, 
when double dating would have shown that the next year 
as now reckoned was intended. The Massachusetts Court 
Records are usually single dated, and searchers are easily 
led into error. 

Much has been written in attempts to explain the method 
of dating, which lacks directness and leaves the reader still 
confused. An attempt is here made to present a concise 

The act of Parliament, passed at the session of Jan. 17, 
1750, is clear in its meaning, and the part here quoted seems 
to need no explanation. It enacted : "That in and through- 
out all his Majesties dominions and countries in Europe, 
Asia, Africa and America the said supputation, according 
to which the year of our Lord beginneth on the twenty-fifth 
day of March, shall not be made use of from and after the 
last day of December one thousand seven hundred and fifty- 
one ; and that the first day of January next following the 
said last day of December shall be reckoned, taken, deemed 
and accounted to be the first day of the j^ear of our Lord, 
one thousand seven hundred and fifty-two." Also that 
"the feast of Easter and other moveable feasts thereon de- 
pending, shall be ascertained according to the same method 
as they now are, until the second day of September in the 


year one thousand seven hundred and fifty -two inclusive ; 
and that the natural day next immediately following the 
said second day of September shall be called, reckoned, and 
accounted to be the fourteenth day of September." 

Ignorance of the law, or defiance of it from prejudice 
which was Avide-spread, led persons to continue the old 
method of dating for some time, and such dates, where 
found, must be treated as errors. 

The following would seem to be a concise statement for 
reference : — 

1. Under the present method of beginning the year Janu- 
ary 1, instead of March 25, December 31 was the last day 
of 1751, and January 1 the first day of 1752. 

2. There should be no double dates after the year 1751, 
and never any except from January 1 to March 24. 

3. Whether a single date in January, February, or March 
to the 24th, in a year prior to 1752, meant, by the present 
method of dating, the year as written or the next, can only 
be determined by the dates of the months preceding or 

4. Prior to 1752 " 1st Month" or " 1 Mo" meant March, 
not January, the months numbering in order to "12th 
Month," which was February, not December. 

The change of dates from Old Style (O.S.) to New Style 
(N.S.) is especially confusing, and occasions much con- 
troversy, and disagreement between what are accepted as 

In 1582 the Gregorian calendar was established, which 
dropped ten days from the Julian calendar, and made each 
of the years ending a century (i.e., which end with 00) 
and not divisible by 400 a common year and not a leap 
year, the Julian calendar having made each divisable by 4 a 
leap year. (This explains why 1900 was not a leap year.) 
Therefore, 1700, which was a leap year under the Julian 
calendar, was a common year under the Gregorian. As, 1 
day had been added in 1700, by adhering to the Julian 
calendar, it became necessary in the act of 1750 to drop 11 

1904.] PUBLIC DOCUMENT— No. 52. 19 

days in order to conform to the Gregorian calendar, which 
had dropped 10. The legal and practical method was thus 
adopted of adding 10 days to all dates prior to Sept. 3, 
1752, to make them conform to the New Style. As an 
illustration, Sept. 7, 1630, the day Boston received its name, 
became September 17, and is so recognized. 

By another method of reckoning, each year divisible by 4 
is considered a leap year, as under the Julian calendar, which 
would include the years 1700, 1800, and 1900, omitted 
in the Gregorian calendar because not divisible by 400. 
Accordingly the Julian calendar adds a day in each century 
for a leap year omitted in the Gregorian or established 

The statement made in various publications that from 
1700 to 1800 there should be 11 days added, 12 from 1800 
to 1900, and 13 during this century, is based upon the fact 
that the years 1700, 1800, and 1900 had each made the 
difference of 1 day between the calendars. This method of 
calculation may have its uses in comparisons, but under it 
each century would require a new adjustment of dates. 
Parliament fixed upon 10 days as the difference, and it was 
adopted, and is so accepted. 

A confusion also arises in legislative dates. Under the 
Constitution the General Court assembled on the last 
Wednesday in May, and was dissolved on the day next preced- 
ing the said last Wednesday. Consequently, the legislative 
year covered parts of two calendar years, while the acts and 
resolves passed in the sessions held in the second calendar 
year bore date of the year of assembling. This continued 
until May 11, 1831. 

The following rule can be followed in considering legis- 
lative dates within the period from May, 1781, to May, 
1831 : for all dates from the last Wednesday of May to De- 
cember 31 inclusive, use the first year ; for all from January 
1 to the day preceding the last Wednesday in May inclu- 
sive, use the second year. 

Various citations of the laws have designated the same 
acts under different numbers, the older editions having 
numbered the chapters of each session serially. The latest 


official edition of the Laws and Resolves numbers the chap- 
ters of the acts consecutively for the legislative year. 

As an illustration, the act passed March 23, 1786, quoted 
in the table of towns in the Manual of the Legislature, 
appears in the early editions as chapter 34 of the February 
session of 1785 (really 1786), while in the latest edition it 
is chapter 75 of the Acts of the legislative year 1785. 

Manual of the Legislature. 

At the request of the Clerk of the Senate and the Clerk of 
the House of Representatives, the table in the Manual of the 
Legislature entitled " Counties, Cities, and Towns of Mas- 
sachusetts" is prepared by the commissioner. This is in 
consequence of the fact that the first report of the commis- 
sion in 1889 contained the class of facts embodied in this table, 
which had been very incomplete and incorrect. In prepar- 
ing the report much legislation before overlooked, because 
not in print or not indexed, was discovered and embodied 
in it. 

From time to time since 1889 references found in ancient 
town records, which have been examined while in the com- 
missioner's custody for binding, have led to the discovery of 
legislation concerning changes in town boundaries ; and such 
legislation has been included in the table, but the commis- 
sioner has had neither time nor appropriation for research 
for this work not properly belonging to his office. The 
very thorough and systematic search of the written court 
records, made by the Commissioners' on the Topographical 
Survey and Map of the State, continued by that department 
of the Board of Harbor and Land Commissioners, has brought 
to light much obscure legislation which has been embodied 
in the table in the Manual, for which acknowledgment is 
here made. The establishment year by year by the Legis- 
lature of new town boundaries as proposed by the Board is 
constantly adding to the table. 

In consulting the table it will be noticed that in many 
cases part of each town is said to be annexed to the other 
town. While this is generally true when new town bounds 
are established, mention is made of the fact only when the 

1904.] PUBLIC DOCUMENT— No. 52. 21 

act so specified, it being inferred that enough territory \\;i . 
then transferred to make it worthy of mention. 

The date given in the table under the caption "First 
Mentioned in Records of the State, or therein recorded as 
Established or Incorporated," is sometimes questioned or 
protested by persons interested in a town, who claim that 
the date of settlement should be given. Some of these pro- 
tests have even reached the Governors. 

The dates given are just what they purport to be. Any 
attempt to give dates of settlement would necessitate his- 
torical sketches, and occasion protests from towns, once 
included in a large tract of land, as to which included the 
original spot settled. 

This subject cannot be better presented than by quoting 
from the first report of this commission : — 

The presentation made under town records is not a historical 
summary of legislation relating to the lands which were first 
plantations and then towns, much of which, as has been said, 
may be a matter of town record only, but it is a presentation of 
the facts contained in the record in possession of the State, with a 
reference to this record covering the first appearance of the town 
name, and of its successive appearances when territorial limits, 
change of name, or change to a city are the subjects of legislation. 
Various conclusions can be drawn from the records. The date of 
the first mention of a town in a tax act is sometimes fixed upon 
as the elate of incorporation ; the date of the first mention of the 
land, which by its location afterward became the town, is some- 
times used to establish the date of incorporation ; also, the elate 
when the " town" is given all the privileges of other towns, etc., 
is sometimes used as the conclusive date as to the incorporation. 
For these reasons, it may be contended that the dates which are 
given in this report as the ones on which certain towns were incor- 
porated are incorrect, as they will not agree with statements in 
town histories and in other works. However, it is believed that 
the dates of the establishment of the several towns, or of the first 
mention of the town names here given, are the correct ones. If a 
town was named in the tax act of any year, and this was the first 
time the town was mentioned in legislation, it is fair to assume 
that it was at that time acknowledged as a town already in exist- 
ence, and the date of the tax act cannot justly be considered as 


the date of incorporation. If a " town" by an act was given the 
privileges of other towns, it must already have been a town, and 
the date of such legislation cannot fairly be considered as the date 
of incorporation. 

Again, if a town — A, for instance — had been Plantation No. 
2 for forty years, and then the name of Plantation No. 2 was 
changed to the town of A, and then the name A was changed to 
B after another forty years, the town of B should not date from 
the establishment of Plantation No. 2, while, as a matter of fact, 
the records of the town of B begin eighty years later ; but the 
circumstances of this illustration apply in some cases. So, there 
are certain towns which, from all that can be ascertained from the 
records in the possession of the State, never were established, and 
there are some not now recognized as towns, which, so far as the 
State record is concerned, have never become extinct. 

An example is furnished in the case of Falmouth. June 
4, 1686, " Upon the request of the inhabitants of Sippican, 
alias Rochester, to become a township, and have the privi- 
leges of a town, the court granted their desires in that 
respect, and the like granted to Suckanesset inhabitants." 
No subsequent legislation identifies Suckanesset with Fal- 
mouth, which name appears for the first time in the State 
records in a tax act in 1694, and it is so stated in the 
Manual. How or when the name Falmouth was given to 
the territory embraced in Suckanesset is not known, and 
the date of the establishment of Suckanesset cannot be 
given as the date of the establishment of Falmouth. 

Northfield offers another illustration. Feb. 22, 1714, 
upon the petition of the inhabitants of the " plantation of 
Squakeag, formerly called Northfield," the grant for a 
plantation was "revived," the "town to be called NTorth- 
field." June 10, 1715, this order was continued for three 
years. Five years later, Dec. 6, 1720, the committee for 
the plantation was continued for two years, and June 15, 
1723, Northfield was given all the privileges enjoyed by 
towns. Unfortunately, the first volume of Northfield 
records has been missing for many years, otherwise it might 
be possible to ascertain when Squakeag was " formerly 
called Northfield," or when the inhabitants considered the 

1904.] PUBLIC DOCUMENT — No. 52. 23 

settlement a town. The first mention of the name in the 
records of the State is Feb. 22, 1714, and that is, therefore, 
given in the Manual, without an attempt to fix the date of 
settlement or incorporation of Northfield. 

The question is sometimes raised as to how certain towns 
became towns or acquired corporate rights, no direct legis- 
lation concerning their establishment or incorporation having 
been enacted. The decision of the Supreme Court and 
the legislation presented for the first time in the table in the 
Manual for 1904 would seem to be sufficient to establish the 
corporate capacity of all towns not otherwise incorporated. 

The dates of all days in the table prior to Sept. 3, 1752, 
are marked with an asterisk, signifying " Old Style." 





Introductory, 3 

Work of the Year, 3, 4 

Enforcement of the Laws, 5, 6 

Accumulation of Papers, 6-9 

Politics in Recording Offices, 9, 10 

Terms of Office, 11 

Exaggerated Newspaper Reports, 11, 12 

Reports of the Commissioner, 13 

Typewriting, 13-15 

Stamping Pads, 15, 16 

Binding and Preserving the Records, 16 

Printing 16,17 

Ancient Dating and Adjusting of Dates, . . . . . . 17, 20 

Manual of the Legislature, .... .... 20-23 



2637865 9